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October 22, 2014

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CD review: Kate Bush’s ‘50 Words for Snow’

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Kate Bush '50 Words for Snow'
Three and a half stars

Kate Bush’s past two releases have been events as much as albums, and not just because we’ve endured waits of 12 and six years to hear them. Once a mainstay on singles charts and magazine covers, the British singer/composer has approached her second career phase as an opportunity for experimentation: 2005’s Aerial sprawled across two discs, the second playing as one continuous piece, and the new 50 Words for Snow finds Bush probing the white wintery substance through her lyrics, usually in tandem with a male vocalist. The piano-built arrangements are, without fail, utterly hypnotic—sparse and serious and suggestive of December’s darkest days. The vocal combinations? Hit and miss. Welshman Andy Fairweather Low (“Wild Man”), teenage chorale singer Stefan Roberts (“Lake Tahoe”) and Bush’s son Albert (“Snowflake”) provide engaging counterpoints to Bush’s celestial instrument, but Elton John’s phrasing on “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” feels soppy and safe. As for actor Stephen Fry’s spoken rundown of 50 words for snow—some actual, some made-up—the concept outruns its viability over the eight minute title track. Ultimately, the project’s best cut is one of just two without a duettist, enveloping epic “Misty.” Listeners might yearn for a full album like it, even as they give thanks for Bush’s spirit of exploration.

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